New Zealand Prime Minister John Key mulls over smacking referendum result


Cabinet will consider the smacking referendum tomorrow and it looks likely police and welfare staff will be told not to investigate or prosecute parents who lightly smack their children.

Those who support smacking children are calling for a law change after having overwhelmingly voted no in a citizens-initiated referendum which asked: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Promoters of the referendum have taken out full age newspaper adverts this weekend saying the vote means the Government should change the law to allow light smacking for the purpose of correction.

The referendum was organised after Green MP Sue Bradford’s member’s bill was passed in 2007. That law change amended the Crimes Act to remove the defence of reasonable force when an adult was charged with assaulting a child.

Prime Minister John Key has said he believes the law is working well, but he acknowledged that the referendum showed that parents feared being criminalised for smacking.

Mr Key told TVNZ’ Q&A programme: “I agree and support their view there, I think it would be totally inappropriate for a New Zealand parent to be prosecuted for lightly smacking a child.

Mr Key said Cabinet would consider the issue tomorrow.

“I think there are some things that we can potentially do that don’t involve a law change but would involve ensuring that their level of comfort that the law is working is maintained.

This could involve monitoring to ensure parents weren’t being prosecuted.

Mr Key said there had been around 200 investigations or complaints involving light smacking, or where the section 59 defence could have had a bearing, and 13 prosecutions.

This compared to 83,000 investigations into domestic violence over same period.

Mr Key also indicated there could be changes in the way police and Child, Youth and Family operate.

While the police had independence on how they operated, they could be asked to make changes to ensure good parents were not criminalised, Mr Key said.

Voter turnout on the initial results was 54 percent, with just over 1.6 million votes cast.

The no camp recorded more than 1.4 million, or 87.6 percent, in the preliminary count, while the yes camp was under 200,000 or 11.81 percent.

The final result will be declared on Tuesday.

Larry Baldock, who was a poll campaigner and leads the Kiwi Party, said Mr Key should put Parliament into urgency to vote on deleting references in the Crimes Act which ban parents from using force “for the purpose of correction”.

Using reasonable force for the purpose of correction would then no longer specifically be an offence, Mr Baldock said.

Yes vote coalition spokeswoman Deborah Morris-Travers told NZPA the group was not surprised by the result.

“We always expected it would go in favour of the no vote because of the way that the question was phrased — it was loaded and misleading, suggesting first of all that hitting children was part of good parenting practice and secondly suggesting that good parents are being criminalised when in fact they are not.”

The police are due to release the latest statistics about investigations and prosecutions for using force against children.

NZPA.co.nz

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